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Robert Luis Autrey ’53

A picture of Robert Autrey

Robert Luis Autrey ’53, September 4, 2011, in Portland. Robert grew up in Galveston and Houston, Texas, and had his first introduction to Reed when he was 13, on a visit to his mother’s friend, Vera Prášilova Scott, portrait photographer and wife of Arthur F. Scott [chemistry 1923–79; acting president 1942–45]. His ambition to attend the college, sparked at that time, was fulfilled in his junior year, when he transferred from Rice University; he earned a BA from Reed in organic chemistry. “I was a complete grind, buried in the chemistry building. I remember those invaluable occasions when I left the familiar cocoon of the chemistry building to trek over to Winch and the Capehart room for music composition classes with Herb Gladstone [music 1946–80]—what a welcome change!” Robert completed a PhD in organic chemistry at Harvard and took a postdoctoral fellowship at Imperial College in London. While there, he also studied opera and ballet at Covent Garden. His passion for collecting records from the beginning of the acoustical era, 1870s–early 1900s, began with recordings he purchased in London. “The records weren’t terribly valuable then, and they still aren’t,” he said in an interview in the early ’70s. “But they got me started on a hobby which is a serious attempt to do two things: to find performances of music that can be tied directly back to the composer—performances about which there is a degree of authenticity—and to document performing styles that were typical in the 19th century.” His collection grew into the thousands. Robert’s phonodiscs also included recordings purchased by his father during his visits to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in the ’30s. For 15 years, Robert taught organic chemistry at the University of Rochester, Harvard, and the Oregon Graduate Center, where he was a founding member. He served as assistant editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society and became partner in a scientific publishing venture, Chiron Press, pioneering work on ecology. Robert supported the Portland Opera, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Chamber Music Northwest; enjoyed chess; and was a co-owner of Westrey Wines with his son David Autrey ’89 and daughter-in-law Amy Wesselman ’91. Robert provided a generous donation to Reed College in memory of Vera Prášilova Scott, creating the Vera Scott Student Prize. He and his first wife, Nadja Scott, daughter of Arthur and Vera, had three sons. He and Joella Werlin were married for 32 years. Survivors include Joella; Robert, David, and Michael Autrey; a stepson and stepdaughter; and four grandchildren and stepgrandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2012

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